Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
System Breakdown - 102
Musical Style: Hard Rock Produced By: Carl Johan Grimmark & System Breakdown
Record Label: Rivel Country Of Origin: Sweden
Year Released: 2003 Artist Website:
Tracks: 8 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 38:15
System Breakdown - 102

System Breakdown, the new side project of Narnia guitarist Carl Johan Grimmark, moves in a mostly straightforward hard rock direction on its 2003 full length debut 102.  An intriguing combination of melodic based songwriting and bone crushing heaviness, 102 finds System Breakdown drawing upon influences as diverse as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, King’s X or even Soundgarden to create one of the more unique and creative releases of the year.  Grimmark might not cut loose with any of the lengthy guitar runs characteristic of his material with Narnia but in no way does he make his presence felt any less.  System Breakdown introduces a darker and moodier side to Grimmark, his playing coming across in a slower and more blues influenced manner while still packing a more than enough punch and power.  Lead vocalist Par Hagstrom brings a raspy but melodic tinged vocal style to the project.  Displaying a great deal of versatility, he can hit a Dio-like high note with ease or reach down low and add a measure of grit and gravel to his delivery.  Drummer Andreas Johansson (Narnia) puts forth one of his finest showings and combines with the steady bass lines of Karl Persson to create a formidable rhythm section.  Keyboardist Ronnie Jaldermark adds just the right amount of touch to each song without coming across heavy handed.  

102 features a good crisp sounding production job with sonics allowing all the instrumentation to stand out in the mix.  An effective blend of crunchy rhythm guitar and fluid lead guitar stand alongside a super thick and heavy down tuned low end.

The substantial bass line at the start of "Pain" gives way to a crisp sounding rhythm guitar.  After the rhythm guitar drops from the mix as “Pain” reaches its first verse, it gradually fades back to a place of prominence as the song moves on to a strong powerfully delivered chorus.  Over its last half "Pain" slows as keyboards move to the front of the mix and combine with a muffled rhythm guitar sound before ending coldly.  “Pain” is aptly named:

Here we are now so small pretending feeling free
And you can take just what you want from me
And you can climb a thousand stairs
Keep tearing down the sun
But remember we’ll soon be leaving – we’ll soon be gone…

The muscular rhythm guitar initiating the slower more mid-tempo paces “System Breakdown” plays a reduced role in the mix during its first verse.  Picking up in pace, the rhythm guitar takes a commanding role as the song proceeds to a groove flavored chorus backed by vocal harmonies.  The bass guitar opens an instrumental passage culminating with a guitar solo that fades in and gradually gains intensity.

Due to a vocal performance from Hagstrom on the abrasive side "A Little More Of Everything" is the albums only track to not always hold up under repeated play.  Opening to a drum solo, "A Little More Of Everything" takes off to a fast paced riff that conveys it in hard hitting fashion to a chorus held back buy its overriding repetitious feel.  The songs instrumental passage, on the other hand, is a creative thing of beauty:  Grimmark's lead guitar work begins quickly before fading out and transitioning to a bass solo overshadowed by ominous sounding keyboards.  The rhythm guitar slowly fades back in as the song gains momentum.

An acoustic guitar slowly carries the haunting ballad "Paths" forward until it transitions to a stylish chorus highlighted by Hagstrom's smooth sounding vocal delivery.  Jaldermark contributes a tastefully done keyboard solo before female vocal harmonies help close out the songs last half.  The lyrics “Paths” come across haunting in feel:

Close my eyes and turn inside
Upon the frozen paths behind
Secret doors so often closed
Still it’s them I use the most

Left upon an empty shore
And my soul cries out for more
Where’s the rain you said they’ll send
Are you thirty too my friend?

"On The Other Side" is the first of two straight tracks on 102 to showcase a huge commercial flavored melody line.  A crunchy rhythm guitar propels the song at a mid-tempo pace until it gains momentum and peaks for a catchy chorus that, with repeated listening, will refuse to leave your head.  A cacophony of confusing vocal effects opens an instrumental passage ending to thirty seconds of the albums best lead guitar work underscored by a punchy bass line.

Standing for "Sail - Fly - Run - High", S.F.R.H. embarks to just under a minute of rhythm and lead guitar backed by vocal harmonies.  Once the guitar drops from the mix as the song slows for its first verse, S.F.R.H. gradually picks up in pace until the rhythm guitar crashes in and fortifies an infectious chorus with a great catchy hook.  Grimmark takes over with a blues flavored guitar solo before the song closes by repeating its excellent chorus one last time.

"Mind Session" is broken down into two parts.

"What Will You Bring Me?" begins part one to a sledgehammer heavy doom-like riff that drops from the mix as Hagstrom takes over on lead vocals.  Subsequent to the song slowing during its verse portions to a quietly played guitar line, the rhythm guitar returns in a not so subtle manner to drive an aggressive sounding chorus.

A prominent mix of bass guitar combined with a quietly played guitar line and keyboards introduces the first 1:20 of "Flying On Wings Of Steel".  Following over a minute of bluesy lead guitar work from Grimmark, Hagstrom delivers the songs only line:

Where are all the flowers, they used to shine so bright
Where is my broken melody, where is my delight
Nothing I regret now of what I've seen and done
Take me to your quarter, take me to the sun

A combination of rhythm and lead guitar accentuated by keyboards carries the song over its last two minutes.

I find the gritty and driving but equally melodic based music of System Breakdown to be a refreshing change of pace.  The albums solid production values and creative songwriting only serve to bring out the best in the combined talents of Carl Johan Grimmark and Par Hagstrom.  On the other hand, 102 is a bit short in coming in at only 38 minutes, but, as the old saying goes, it is the quality and not necessarily the quantity that counts.  And 102 does not disappoint by delivering more than its fair share of quality. 
Review by: Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: "Pain" (5:06), "System Breakdown" (5:56), "A Little More Of Everything" (4:16), "Paths" (5:01), "On The Other Side" (3:51), "S.F.R.H." (5:29), "Mindsession Part 1: What Will You Bring Me?" (3:38), "Mindsession Part 2: Flying On Wings Of Steel" (4:56)

Par Hagstrom – Lead Vocals
Carl Johan Grimmark – Guitars, Glissentar, Mandolin & Programming
Ronnie Jaldemark - Keyboards
Karl Persson – Bass
Andreas Johansson – Drums

Also Reviewed: Narnia – The Great Fall, Narnia - At Short Notice, Narnia - Enter The Gate, Narnia - Decade Of Confession, Saviour Machine – Legend III:I


Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
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